Playing with Android apps on the first laptop built especially for them – Digital Trends

It’s not much of a surprise Samsung brought a new Chromebook to CES this year. It’s been a while since the Korean manufacturer has updated its line of Chrome OS powered laptops, and the new Samsung Chromebook Plus and Pro are the best of the bunch. It’s fitted with a vibrant 2,400 x 1,600 display, a 360-degree hinge, and it has a trick hidden up its sleeve — the Google Play Store.

That’s right. Working with engineers at Google, Samsung has constructed the first Chromebook designed with Android app capabilities in mind. That includes a built-in stylus with digitizer, full accelerometer support, and new context menus to help both laptop and mobile users bridge the gap between form factors.

It’s worth noting there are actually two new Chromebooks: the Plus and Pro. The only difference between the two is the processor, which is an ARM hexa-core chip of Samsung’s own making called the OP1 in the Plus, and an Intel Core m3-6y30 in the Pro. Otherwise, the systems are completely identical.

The hardware

The Chromebook Pro is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to internal components. At its heart is an Intel Core m3-6Y30, a dual-core Skylake chip with Hyper-Threading and a 900MHz base clock, paired up with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of e.MMC storage. That’s not the most competitive performance promise we’ve seen, but it makes up for it with the display.

The 12.3-inch screen boasts a very competitive 2,400 x 1,600 panel. It’s a fully equipped touchscreen, like the kind we’re growing used to seeing on laptops of any size, with a digitizer for the built-in stylus, which pops out of the side a la Samsung’s Note line of smartphones. While it’s hard to judge screens in a hardware preview hall, it’s clear Samsung has a winner on its hands here. Colors were pleasantly vibrant, and black levels deep enough for us to take notice.

Samsung Chromebook Pro

Its 3:2 aspect ratio is an odd choice for a Chromebook, but as frequent Surface Book users, we’ve grown fond of the taller screen, and it allows Android apps to run vertically in laptop mode without leaving a lot of awkward space on either side.

For a small system, in a market that doesn’t place a lot of stock in build quality, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is impressively sturdy, with an aluminum chassis that exudes luxury, while still weighing in at just under 2.5 pounds. The keyboard provides deep travel and a sturdy click at the bottom of each press — once again, a rare feature to come across on Chromebooks at any price point. Connectivity is fairly standard, offering up two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, MicroSD for expansion, and dedicated power.

The software

While a handful of Chromebooks will recieve an update allowing them to use Android apps from the Google Play Store, Samsung’s new Chromebook Pro is the only system built with that very use case in mind. The built-in accelerometer allows you to play your favorite Android games without any issue, and the screen and special beta version of Chrome OS are designed to be more receptive to a keyboard and trackpad.

That’s a massive boon to Chrome OS users. We’re big fans of the lightweight operating system, particularly for users who often find themselves within range of a Wi-Fi network, but newer hardware is growing cheaper, more powerful, and more power efficient. Google Play is a solution that’s ready to roll out with existing infrastructure and rich app support, opening up the world of Chrome OS to new experiences.

Google is able to create an algorithm for prediction tied specifically to your handwriting patterns.

As you might imagine, spending time with the Chromebook Pro only convinced us further that this is the way to go for Chrome OS. The mobile-first Android apps open fast and load even faster, maxing out potential screen resolution and performance settings in games, and sprawling out seductively in productivity and media apps. Samsung mentioned other little perks too, like using the Netflix Android app to save videos offline — something you can’t do on a Windows or Mac laptop — and the ability to use mobile-only messaging apps with a keyboard and touchpad.

The stylus is also a new feature for Chrome OS, and one that actually brings a lot of functionality with it. Using machine-learning techniques, Google is able to create an algorithm for prediction tied specifically to your handwriting patterns. That means, instead of waiting for you to finish a word and inserting a slight delay to interpret it, the word is actually predicted as you write, so taking down notes has never been snappier. Better yet, this algorithm allows you to turn around and search your own handwritten notes. The digitizer display performs with the best of them, but you’d likely only use it when the system is in tablet mode, where your fingers will do just fine for Android apps.

Is it worth it?

Samsung’s new Chromebook Pro has everything you could possibly want from a Chrome OS machine — great keyboard, solid construction, and Core level performance — while also bringing some of the best Android features — accelerometers, advanced touch support, and of course the Google Play store.

That’s really the big draw with Samsung’s Chromebook Pro. Chrome OS on its own is a minimal and utilitarian operating system, but mixing in Google Play Store apps adds a massive amount of functionality and developer support the platform has never experienced. Working with Google has clearly focused Samsung’s efforts on producing clean, serious hardware that’s purpose-built for covering a wide array of mobile and computing use cases with minimal effort on the user’s part.

The ARM-powered Samsung Chromebook Plus will start at $449, with an ARM OP1, but identical specifications otherwise, and we expect the Chromebook Pro to cost slightly above that, pricing it at the top end of the Chromebook market, apart from the niche Pixel Chromebook. Google Play, in conjunction with refined, powerful hardware, means the Samsung Chromebook Pro and Plus may be the breaking wave that changes the tide for Chromebooks.

Highs

  • Full Google Play Store support
  • Sturdy, attractive hardware
  • Vibrant screen
  • Versatile form factor

Lows

  • Priced at the top end of the market
  • Stylus’ usefulness remains to be seen

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